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Decentering Whiteness, Prison Visitation, and How America Fails Black Girls

March 29, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region. 

1. How America Fails Black Girls
Morgan Jerkins in the New York Times: “Though the recent social-media conversation on the issue may have been set off by faulty numbers, the truth is black girls and women are still some of the most vulnerable members of society. The journalist Gwen Ifill called the lack of attention to such disappearances ‘missing white woman syndrome.’ Missing white, upper middle-class women and girls receive a disproportionate amount of press coverage compared to women and girls of color, poor people and men. In 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, African-Americans, who make up only 13.3 percent of the United States population, represented 33.8 percent of the missing. Cmdr. Chanel Dickerson of the district’s police department has said that a large percentage of missing teenagers are leaving home voluntarily. […] But even leaving voluntarily can be evidence of a problem. […] Claims that black girls leave home voluntarily, if not coupled with an examination of all the reasons they might feel they need to leave, encourage the public to see black girls not as children in need of protection but adults responsible for their own predicament. As a result, few in authority do anything for them.”

2. How the Trump administration’s immigration policies are silencing victims of domestic violence
Katie McDonough for Fusion: “At least four undocumented women in Colorado have declined to pursue domestic violence cases against their alleged abusers for fear of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a report from NPR. ‘We had pending cases that we were prosecuting on their behalf and since January 25, the date of the president’s executive order [on immigration], those four women have let our office know they were not willing to proceed with the case for fear that they would be spotted in the courthouse and deported,’ said Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson. Bronson traces their refusal back to the February detention of an undocumented trans woman at a Texas courthouse, where she was seeking a protective order against an allegedly abusive ex-partner. ‘They make a lot of threats that they’ll report you. They’ll say that you can’t call the police or go to court, which are really big myths,’ Rachel Goldsmith, assistant vice president of domestic violence shelters at Safe Horizon, a service provider in New York City, told me last month. ‘They may tell you, ‘Oh I know the laws in this country and you don’t.’ It’s a common tactic of power and control.'”

3. One question that turns courageous journalists into cowards
Farai Chideya for Columbia Journalism Review: “Being a black woman reporter who covers politics, race, and gender has made me unafraid to enter spaces where I am not particularly welcomed. I once showed up unannounced at an all-white country church to interview a pastor who had threatened to dig up the body of a mixed-race baby from their cemetery. Most of the time, things are less dramatic than that. But I’ve learned a lot from having to remain compassionate under challenge, to navigate differences big and small with an eye on being fair in my final reporting. I’d wager that all political reporters who go out into the field have to deal with their own version of these challenges, which is one reason diversity matters in political teams. Different perspectives on as massive a topic as American politics should strengthen the work of the whole newsroom. That’s me speaking through the lens of my experience, of course. I also believe it’s important to quantify the question of who reported the 2016 election, and whether political teams’ race and gender diversity had any impact on newsrooms. As a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, I’m researching the subject by conducting interviews with reporters and experts, and using the newly released MIT Media Lab analytics tool MediaCloud, and data from the firm Media Tenor. But the most important data point for this project—numbers from newsrooms on their 2016 political team staffing—has been the hardest to collect because very few managers or business-side staff are willing to disclose their data.”

4. ‘Those Visits Were Everything’: How Prison Visitation Cuts Devastate Families
Victoria Law for Broadly: Buried in the [New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s] budget is a proposal to reduce the number of visiting days in maximum-security prisons from seven to just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, a move that he told Democrats would save the state $2.6 million by eliminating 39 staff positions. Family members and advocates say the cuts will discourage visiting with more crowded visiting rooms, longer waits, and shorter visits, impacting relationships already strained by lengthy prison sentences. ‘I don’t think that’s fair,’ said 16-year-old Margarita, whose father has been incarcerated since she was three or four years old. ‘If we have a vacation during the week, we want to see our parents.’ She recalls going to visit her father two days before her 15th birthday. ‘Usually, if we talk on the phone, it’s like, ‘Happy birthday. Have fun,” she recalled. But that day, they spent several hours together talking, walking around the outside visiting area and playing Monopoly. ‘Kids—they want to see their parents more,’ she added. “[These cuts] are just taking away time from our parents.’ […] [The] impact of parental incarceration, like incarceration itself, disproportionately affects families of color. African-American children are seven times more likely, and Latino children are twice as likely, to have a parent in prison as their white peers. Incarceration doesn’t affect just children and parents—other family members, such as spouses, non-married partners, parents and siblings, also feel the brunt of their loved ones’ absence.”

5. Thinking Another Person’s Thoughts: The Millions Interviews Brit Bennett
Ismail Muhammad interviews Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers, for The Millions. Bennett: “Something that I began to think about further on was that I was writing a novel about a woman who decides not to be a mother to a black child, in a time when we’re discussing Black Lives Matter, and the precariousness of black youth. So that was on my mind, but…I never want to downplay the institutional and emotional impact of racism on lives of color, but I reject the idea that racism dictates your every action and thought. The idea that all your interiority is dedicated to thinking about white racism…there’s something so insulting about the idea that my life revolves around whiteness. It doesn’t! I think about race a lot, but it’s not as if you walk down the street and a burning cross falls on you. The sense that that is what it means to be black is often something that white people think — that all black people do is think about white people. I reject that as a reality. It’s not real, and it’s politically troubling. That’s one thing I love about Toni Morrison: she’s not interested in writing about white people. She writes about black communities, and whiteness will linger or influence the story, but her characters are thinking about other black people, their own problems, their own lives. That notion of decentering whiteness from a narrative was important to me and felt realistic to how I experience life as a black woman. That was something I kept in mind while writing. The fact that that’s surprising says a lot about how people think black people experience the world.”